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Are Garlic Presses Tools of Satan?

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The anti-garlic press faction: Andre Bourdain, Marcella Hazan, my boyfriend, et. al.

The garlic-press-permissible faction: Julia Child, Jeffery Steingarten, my mother, et. al.

What do you guys think? I used to think the 'press makes it bitter' theory was pseudoscience. But then I read Harold McGee's 'On Food and Cooking" wherein he explains that garlic's flavor results from the mixing of the contents of different kinds of cells when it's cut or crushed--unlike, say, ginger which has ginger flavored juice in all its cells. McGee doesn't weigh in on the garlic press issue one way or the other, but it stands to reason that crushing garlic through a press might affect the taste.

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  1. I have never personally noticed any difference between garlic that I've pressed, smashed, or chopped.

    I prefer to chop or mince because I'm too lazy to clean out the press, but occasionally I'll press if it's going into a salad dressing or something where I don't want to find chewy bits. Again, I've never noticed that my pressed garlic is any more or less bitter than chopped/minced.

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      JK Grence (Cosmic Jester)

      It all dpends on what you want to do with the garlic. It's like how an artist would use one brush for wide swaths of color and another one for small details. Sometimes the knife will be the better choice, other times the garlic press.

      Personally, I can't tell the difference. Maybe one of these days I'll try doing some pasta aglio e olio with minced garlic, then with pressed.

      1. Personally, I've always thought that garlic presses are way underrated -- I use mine all the time, and I've got dibs on my mom's press when she finally decides to hang up her apron. There's something really satisfying about that moment when the clove gives in and gets smushed.....

        -- Paul

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          Janet A. Zimmerman

          The one circumstance where I notice a difference is when I'm sauteeing -- then the pressed garlic is much more prone to burning, especially if it's in the oil all by itself. So I never press garlic for a stir fry, for instance, but I do if I'm making a sauce.

          If you want a stronger garlic flavor, you'll get it by pressing rather than mincing. BUT, when mincing, if you use the method of smashing the clove with the side of a knife before mincing, you're basically doing the same thing to the clove as pressing.

          As far as clean-up goes, if you press garlic with the skin on, the sticky residue is contained by the skin and clean up is much easier -- you can just pop out the used-up clove.

          1. Bitter flavors in garlic are because it is overripe and starting to sprout. If there is any type of a shoot forming or green in the garlic it will be bitter.

            1. Twenty centuries of Italian chefs can't be wrong. Garlic presses are fine. Just make sure you use one that really works.

              1. I use my garlic press every day. But I've found it really makes a tremendous difference precisely what kind of press you use. I think it was the NY TIMES that did a comparison last year (either that or Dorie Greenspan in BON APPÉTIT) and the "winner" was the Zyliss, which has an adjustable plunger AND a blue plastic mold of the press to clean it out (leave it to the Swiss!). It may change your life! I think it saves a tremendous amount of time, and if it's reasonably fresh and you're careful not to burn it, cooked garlic should never be bitter, whether it's pressed, chopped, minced, processed, roasted, sautéed, or braised. That green shoot through the middle should always be removed, but it also usually indicates that the clove is not particularly fresh.

                So search out a Zyliss (about $14) and never look back!

                3 Replies
                1. re: Tom Steele

                  I second the Zyliss recommendation.

                  1. re: Chimayo Joe

                    I third it. Use without regret. The "tool of Satan" thing is a kind of foodie urban legend; 'hounds know better. As noted, however, because the press produces a very fine pulp, it is just easier to overcook it in overly hot oil; I tend to lower the temp to reduce the likelihood of this.

                    1. re: Karl S.

                      The latest Cooks Illustrated had a pretty good breakdown of this.

                      The mag reports that pressed garlic indeed has a different taste from minced, chopped or whole cloves or heads.

                      Different methods for different cooking methods and different tastes, I guess.

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                  Out-of-work Cook

                  Garlic presses do indeed give a different product from a good old chef's knife: the texture as well as the taste are very different when you "press" the garlic instead of slice, slice, slice and then mash all the way down to paste. If you're only using a couple of cloves for home cooking, though, it might not be all that noticeable to a lot of people. HOWEVER, in a professional setting, it is ludicrous to try to use a press: ever try making 2 cups of (chopped) smushed garlic with a dinky little press? And, no, you can't use the food processor, 'cause that bangs up the garlic in a different (unwanted) way. Besides, there's something very satisfying in a zen-like way about reducing a pile of garlic cloves to a smooth paste.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Out-of-work Cook

                    I often use the food processor to chop large amounts of garlic (my mini-chopper works wonders). I haven't noticed undesired results, but maybe I am missing something? Why is this bad/unwanted?

                    1. re: Carrot

                      i don't think there is an iron-clad, one size fits all rule.

                      Sometimes you want really pulverized garlic. Sometimes you want larger pieces.

                      It depends on the flavors you want to create, and the recipe, and how you want the dish to look.

                      1. re: Carrot

                        I have a big plastic mortar with a wooden pestle, Korean. I use it to smash up garlic, peppers, ginger, etc. Really quick and easy.